Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) might have started off last cycle with a target on his back, but it appears he could get a free pass in 2010.
Young defeated his Republican primary challenger, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, by just 304 votes last year and was re-elected in an upset over former state House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz (D).
But with Berkowitz likely opting for a gubernatorial bid in 2010 and no Republican seriously considering a primary challenge, Young seems to have a much easier road to re-election.
Berkowitz said in a phone interview Monday that he is no longer interested in challenging the 36-year House Republican and instead is carefully considering running against Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R).
“I can do more, provide better leadership, from the governor’s perch,— Berkowitz said.
Although every public poll showed Berkowitz in the lead up until November, Young rebounded with 6 percent victory to win re-election. In the immediate aftermath of his narrow loss, Berkowitz said that he was considering a rematch with Young but has since focused his efforts on Palin.
“Even Don Young kept telling me during the last campaign that I should run for governor,— Berkowitz quipped.
Berkowitz declined to expand on why Young wanted him to run for governor, but the House Republican has had a well-known feud with Palin since before she joined Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on the national ticket last year. Palin backed Parnell when he tried to topple Young in the GOP primary.
Parnell did not return a request for comment Monday on whether he is interested in running against Young again, but local Republicans said he has recently been mum about a bid. Sources close to Parnell confirmed in early April that he was interested in running again, but state party officials said this week that he had not disclosed his plans yet.
Parnell’s bid was boosted by the Club for Growth, which dumped six figures’ worth of advertisements into the race on his behalf. Club spokesman Rich Dunn confirmed that the organization has not met with Parnell or any other candidates about challenging Young this cycle.
Another potential Republican challenger, Andrew Halcro, also appears to be more inclined to challenge Palin. A businessman, Halcro made a name for himself running a political Web site and radio show. He ran for governor as an Independent in 2006 against Palin and took almost 10 percent of the vote.
Halcro said he met with Young several weeks ago to let him know that he was considering challenging him but said on Monday that state government is his “first love.— What’s more, he’s convinced that Palin will not run for re-election in 2010 in order to prepare for a White House bid in 2012.
“I just am absolutely personally positive that she is not going to run for re-election,— Halcro said. “I’m just viewing her as she’s one and done.—
The chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, Randy Ruedrich, confirmed that no Republicans have contacted him about plans to run against Young. He said some people have expressed interest in a bid, but no one has moved past saying they would run for the seat only if Young retires. The veteran Republican has made it clear that he plans to run for re-election.
Young’s other challenger in the 2008 GOP primary, former state Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, said she does not want to run again if Young does.
“Basically I like to win my races,— LeDoux said. “And last year didn’t turn out exactly how I had in mind.—
LeDoux said then-Sen. Ted Stevens’ (R-Alaska) corruption trial last fall had an impact on what she thinks of Young’s federal investigation. Stevens lost re-election one week after he was found guilty in federal court — a verdict that has since been dismissed because the judge ruled the Justice Department failed to hand over key evidence to Stevens’ legal team.
Although political opponents have tried to paint Young as corrupt in the past, and he has spent campaign funds on legal fees, LeDoux is convinced the issue will not be able to be used against the Congressman next time.
“When I ran against Don the last time around, I was pretty concerned with some of the Justice Department’s investigations and that sort of thing,— LeDoux said. “After what happened with Ted Stevens and seeing what the Justice Department was like, I’m perfectly well to give Mr. Young the benefit of the doubt.—
And with Berkowitz no longer an option for Democrats, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will have to look elsewhere for a challenger. DCCC officials said the race continues to be a priority for them.
“Continuing to face legal trouble, now Don Young is raising money for his legal defense fund from corporations who are facing their own legal investigations — and Alaskans have had enough,— DCCC spokesman Andy Stone said.
State Sen. Hollis French (D) has been mentioned as a possible candidate, as well as 2006 Democratic nominee Diane Benson. Benson lost to Berkowitz in the 2008 Democratic primary.